How to Pass the Time While Stuck in L.A. Traffic

                              Photo from LA Traffic Cam

Los Angeles is known, no—fabled, no—downright notorious for its horrible, mind-numbing traffic. In fact, it’s estimated that Los Angeles County residents spend about 4 days a year (or, oof, 96 hours) in their cars.

So what’s an Angelino to do with all that time? Here are some ways I’ve come up to pass the hours you spend getting from here to there in L.A.:


1.  Rock out to KCRW. KCRW is Los Angeles’ public radio, indy rock station, with a heavy dose of NPR-sponsored news and programming. Turn that dial to 89.9 FM and enjoy new bands, the latest news, and helpful traffic updates. Plus, with frequent free giveaways for members in venues all around the city, it’s a great introduction to some interesting music hotspots around town. Bonus: For you smartphone users, they have a great app, too!



2.  Roll down your windows and let the sunshine in. Hey, you’re in California, remember? Chances are the weather is a balmy 82 degrees and sunny, so breathe in those exhaust fumes and enjoy that sunshine. Just don’t forget to sunscreen up or you’ll soon be sporting a super attractive, left-armed trucker’s tan.

Hitting some of that famous L.A. traffic

This image from PD has been released into the public domain by its author and copyright holder, Jon Sullivan


3.  Count out-of-state license plates. One of the first things anyone will ask you at a party in L.A. is “So, where are you from?” It’s a widely known fact that no one is from Los Angeles, we all just move here trying to make it big (or cry trying). In particular, you’ll see a large number of out-of-state plates driven by young dreamers like myself. And just so you know, a thumbs-up of encouragement is always appreciated, even after we’ve accidentally cut you off in a left-turn-only lane—quit honking, we’re from outta town, after all!



4.  Eat. I’ve become a huge proponent of stocking my car with snacks, like cereal bars, trail mix, that sort of thing, since you never know if you’ll get stuck in a jam on the freeway. Bonus points if you’re wise enough to stop at In ‘N’ Out for a burger animal-style before you head out into the rush.


5.  Practice defensive driving. Check your blind spot, increase your following distance, signal excessively…and be prepared to get hit despite it all. You’re in traffic for an entire four days a year; chances are you’ll be involved in a fender-bender at some point down the line. On that note, you may want to consider dropping a bit more on insurance than you might in another city; it might be worth it.


6.  Learn a new language. Check out an audiobook at the library and practice your nouns while you stop and go (that’s “parada” and “ir” in Spanish, folks). Look for an audiobook that emphasizes conversational language skills, so there’s not too much book work that goes along with it.

7.  Be a trailblazer: Take public transit. Despite its reputation to the contrary, L.A. does have a growing public transportation system (with a subway! Who knew!). It’s particularly useful if you’re heading to Hollywood or downtown. And for those of you out late at night, all trains and the Orange Line are now running until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays!

Final note: Believe it or not – and despite what you may see to the contrary, one thing you shouldn’t be doing while driving is talking on your cell phone – unless it’s on speakerphone or you have a headset or Bluetooth. California has a strictly enforced cell phone law and cops will pull you over and slap you with a hefty fine (well – hefty for someone like me who’s on a budget!). Texting is also illegal, so when you desperately need to tweet about having just seen Justin Bieber coming out of a Starbucks in West Hollywood, just pull over okay?


Self-portraits: Only a good idea as a passenger




In defense of the family road trip:

Like many moody teenagers, I dreamt of suing my parents, but never more than after our first family road trip. I imagined bringing my mom and dad to the courthouse of public opinion in my mind, but I thought, why stop there? Why not sue my two sisters and make it a clean sweep? Maybe, just maybe, I could prevent these people from ruining any more lives.

This is my story. The story of the worst, most humiliating two weeks of my life. I’d change the names, but it would only protect the guilty.


William Kennedy: Your honor, I present the ladies and gentlemen of the jury evidence that, following a game of highway bingo on August 15, 2001, my sister did punch me in the left side of the head. This unjustified and unladylike assault occurred at Deadman’s Summit on Route 395, so named because of a corpse found there in the 1860s. (See, I still have a bruise.) I also submit that this corpse, though dead and headless, was far luckier than myself because it never met the aforementioned sister.

Furthermore, I contend that I did win the game of highway bingo, that the bird observed on the roadside was in fact a crow, not a raven, and that this sister, one Jane, was entirely unfounded in her refusal to accept defeat and proclaim me champion of the family van.

Judge: Mr. Kennedy, I can’t see any possible relevance in these remarks.

WK: Your honor, if you will indulge me, the above incident served merely as a jumpstart to the injustice and downright terribleness to come on this family road trip—a trip that had just begun when the punching took place, one that still had one week and 1,750 miles to go. From my experiences I have no doubt the jury can only conclude that all future family road trips must be postponed indefinitely or canceled outright, while awarding me a settlement of $50,000 for emotional and physical trauma.

Judge: Well, it’s highly unorthodox, but I’ll allow it.

WK: Thank you, your honor. I call my first witness, Robert Kennedy.

Robert Kennedy takes the stand.

Isn’t it true, Dad, that not once, not twice, but thrice you crashed the brand-new family van, and that on the third instance the door jammed, setting off the ‘door-ajar’ alarm, so that everyone in the parking lot stared at us?

Robert Kennedy: Yes, but…

WK: No further questions. Let me remind the court that sitting in a hot parking lot inside a beeping white van with a broken door is incredibly uncool. Next, I call Jane Kennedy to the stand.

Jane Kennedy takes the stand.

WK: Tell me, Jane “Worst Sister in the Universe” Kennedy—where were you on the evening of August 15 at 4 p.m.?

Jane Kennedy: I’m not talking to you.

WK: Answer the question, please.

JK: Nope.

WK: Your honor, permission to treat the witness as hostile, annoying and spoiled.

Judge: Granted.

WK: I’ll tell you then. You were running away! That’s what you were doing, further wrecking an already hopelessly bad vacation.

JK: Yeah, ‘cause you were a jerk.

WK: Am not!

JK: Are too! You called me fat.

WK: Well, I…

JK: And you threw up on me.

WK: That was an accident.

JK: And it was a raven!!!

WK: For the zillionth time, it was a CROW and I won! You’re such a… Ahem, pardon me your honor, no further questions. For my penultimate witness, I call Helen “Second Worst Sister in the Galaxy” Kennedy.

Helen, you’re probably too young to fully comprehend the psychological damage caused by our road trip, but please tell the good people of the jury…”

HK: It was fun.

WK: What?

HK: Yeah. Except you were in a bad mood. Maybe because you didn’t eat anything.

WK: Helen, be quiet.

HK: And then we finally found organic avocados and bread that you would eat, but when we sat under that big tree by the Native American museum, it shed fur all over your sandwich, and then you looked at us and said: “I hate this family.”

WK: But what about all the hours in the car? When Dad wouldn’t stop to let you use the restroom? Those Utah people thinking Jane and I were your parents?

HK: That was funny.

WK: What about when you made us get out in Yosemite because you saw snow for the first time? And then, when you wouldn’t leave after two hours, we dragged you away screaming and crying, and people thought we were kidnapping you?

HK: I like snow.

WK: Grrrrr. No further questions. For the final witness, I call Maria Kennedy.

Maria Kennedy takes the stand.

WK: Mom, I’d like to take a minute…

MK: Actually, I wanted to take a minute to show you something.

WK: Mom! I’m supposed to be asking the questions.

MK: What’s this in my hand?

WK: Mom, please, you’re really embarrassing me right now!

MK: What is it?

WK: It’s a photo of me, Jane and Helen laughing … under some really cool rock formations near in Zion National Park.

MK: And what’s this?

WK: It’s me pretending to throw Helen in the Grand Canyon.

MK: And how ‘bout this one?

WK: That’s you and Jane helping me write a letter … to my girlfriend. But Mom, pictures don’t tell the whole story!

MK: What about the time you hiked with your dad to the top of Angel’s Landing? Or your bike ride in Moab? Or when we all went river rafting with the guide who loved the A-Team almost as much as you.

WK: OK MOM! No further questions. Your honor, I’d like to request a brief recess before my closing remarks.


Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I came before you today originally to sue my family and argue for the dissolution of the institution of family road trips, but I can no longer in good conscience continue. The testimony we’ve heard reminded me that yes, much, and possibly most of what goes on during a family road trip is awful and humiliating, but there are also wonderful moments.

It’s a right of passage, especially for teenagers, to go to a place, be really embarrassed by family members, and promise never to return. And it’s a source for stories that the family will find funny at some point in the very, very, very distant future.

I hereby formally submit to end the proceedings, but leave you with this final insight. Go on that road trip with the whole family, but just the once; it’ll be more than enough.



Duck pic

Spring Pucker

It’s that funny month of March again where mornings are Winter and afternoons already Spring.  All batty-eyed and full of expectation, the sun – as the lark – rises earlier each morning. (So do I, by the way, though fumblingly and with decidedly less grace and panache.)   I wear my rain boots and winter coat every day – another marker of early March. Were I living in a big city where people go all ‘tall, dark and handsome’ for quirky fashions, I might get a few silent nods of approval, but here I think people are just wondering why I left my Power Ranger lunchbox and protection-tipped plastic umbrella at home. But, as previously mentioned, those high-heels make up for most of my fashion missteps in Ukraine.  So, rain boots and winter coat it is. The overnight chill leaves the road that stretches from my house to school icy until midday when the mud and green and chirp of birds reappear, reminding me that I’ve made it through the cruel months of Winter once again…

I turned onto my street just a few minutes ago satisfied that I’d managed to get off my butt and go for a run.  It rained yesterday and the road is rough and muddy terrain but, as always, quite worth it.  I saw the usual – a few kids playing by the side of the road, nibbling at the grass and following a Billy goat up and down the sidewalk and those spotted cows with horns just going about their early springtime business.

Things have quite suddenly become deathly green here.  Every tree branch hangs heavy over the sidewalk. Little streets that I walk down every day to get to school are nearly unrecognizable the growth has been so great. How this place has changed so quickly. It is beautiful and doing everything in its power to contend with the image of dark, gray Soviet concrete that seems permanently plastered in my mind.

The milder weather, though, has done little to change the dressing habits of Ukraine’s youngest generation.

Ukrainian kids are, as a rule, overdressed in Spring and Fall. The fear of catching a chill is ubiquitous and no thermometer could convince the guardians of these little stuffed starfish to let them shed even a single layer. I see one such munchkin a few hundred feet away from my front gate.  He’s standing alone, playing in a pile of sand (undoubtedly meant for some other purpose) and baking in the midday rays.  He’s bundled up like a rolled cigar; tight little layers, each adding to his girth and internal temperature.  He has a wool hat pulled down over his ears, corduroy pants (wide wales) and little yellow shoes.  The little shoes remind me of the twelve ducklings that are living in our yard.  Small gray mud stains spot the front half of each duckling.  Nearly identical spots are splattered on my neighbor boy’s shoes.  It is nothing like Pollock but it ain’t half bad.

Usually, as I walk by most kids just stare unabashedly at me until I pass.  I greet them with some inevitably accented salutation and they only gawk greater.  This little guy, however, pays me no mind.  He’s busy practicing.  I hear him before I get a good look at what he’s doing.  It sounds something like a kitchen parrot trying to get the attention of a recently arrived house guest.  Or a first grader who’s just discovered the musical instrument created after the loss of her two front teeth.

It’s the overgrowth that prevents me from seeing him right away. Unaccustomed as I am to the sounds of farm animals, I briefly consider whether or not this noise could be some other species of turkey with whom I have yet to make an acquaintance.

But no – I turn the corner and confirm – it is a little boy.

And the best kind of little boy I know – all bundled up like a late-blooming butterfly. So darling is he that for a moment, I don’t begrudge his mother for keeping him wrapped up for as long as possible in the polyester-silken safety of his chrysalis snowsuit.

The little boy stands beside his own gaggle of ducklings. He stares at them – he in his spotted yellow shoes and they in their spotted yellow down.  He puckers his lips and – loud like Gabriel – kisses the air in their direction.  It sounds like he’s participating in a candy-sucking contest – trying his damndest to finish the hard lemony rock in his mouth before the next kid.  He stares over at the fuzzy, yellow animals and then, again, sucks in his lips and smacks.  He’s improving – slow, sloppy kisses become quick, sharp ones.  And soon it seems as though he is conducting them all with his two little, puckered and pink lips.

He’s got it right – this little cigar of a Don Juan; he’s gotten right down to the business of spilling his affection out onto these first evidences of life alive again.  The objects of his love declarations are frenetic with excitement and a little muddy, too. The ducklings peep and squeak in response. I vow to be more pleasant in the mornings and enjoy the icy walk to school. I promise to take advantage of the sunshine and launder my clothes more often. I will finish that book and spend more time outside. I also consider taking up Astronomy.  I resolve to be a better American.

Some orchestra, I marvel.

And some spring.

I know it’s early yet, but I do think it’ll be a good one.  Not just because the snowdrops will start growing and the marshrutka trips will be faster and less jostling.  Or even because I’ll get to see my friends and wear more dresses.  But because it just aught to be.  After all, what manner of thing could deign to be dismal when it starts out with such an act?


empty armchair 3

Give It A Rest

Sometimes it dawns on me that I’m probably an armchair adventurer.  You want the best trip into the wild?  Read someone else’s account, complete with beauty, hardship, awe, and maybe a little disaster thrown into the mix. 

Early on in this particular hike the heat and sun were getting to me.  Why had I left cooler Hollywood to head inland to the higher, and in the summer, hotter mountains? I was lucky I brought my hat and yet the sun was still making me squint and I was feeling the precursor to a headache.  I finally relented to using my sunglasses, but I always find they make my world feel completely different.  I like the idea of them, but I always feel a bit out of it when I wear them, and I don’t think they help with the headache.

As I’m walking I wonder what brought me out here.  What made me leave my apartment on one of my few days off to hike alone into the mountains during the heat of the day?  Then the summit feels closer, I can see the radio towers up top and they are closer than I would have expected.  I also notice a single track trail heading off into the woods.  I take the detour and relish the change in direction.

I am starting to enjoy myself until the bugs reach me.  My head is swarmed by small flies and gnats that are infatuated with my eyes and ears.  I had had a massage the day before and realized how tense I had been.  On the walk I am trying to relax however, the bugs make me crouch forward, ready to flinch.  Still somehow, I feel I should keep going, that I’ll enjoy the experience more in retrospect than if I simply turn around.  At least there’s some shade and I’m pretty sure I pass both bear and mountain lion scat. 

I haven’t seen any hikers in at least an hour and so am surprised when I come across a few older women.  They warn me of a rattlesnake and lots of poison oak ahead.  This only makes me more committed to going further.  I’m careful to avoid any plants and am on the look out for the snake that I assume will not be an issue.  I pick up a few dry pieces of grass to wave around my head to keep the bugs away. 

Finally, more of a rhythm.  I hear water and know there must be a creek ahead.  When I arrive I am surprised to find a pristine camp site, but as I near the creek the water seems shallow and the bugs make me think twice of going in.  Still I realize it’s early, I have plenty of water, and it doesn’t feel like time to turn back.  The trail is less defined and I’m hoping it will lead to the steep ridge I spotted earlier that looks like it might be passable with a little scrambling.  The terrain is dense with chaparral though and I can never tell if the trail is going forward or about to switch back again to climb higher away from the creek. 

Reaching the top of a different and much lower ridge, I’m blasted again with heat.  I try to figure out whether there are more bugs in the shade or heat.  I don’t think it matters. It seems impossible to escape them either way, and yet, I can’t seem to ever get used to them.  I’m always tense.  The sound of one buzzing toward my ear instinctually feels awful. 

The trail begins to descend again and I hear the familiar sound of water- now this will be a good place to take a dip and call it a day before turning around.  However, as I approach the creek I see it is barely a trickle.  It is less than three feet wide and no more than 8 inches deep.  Furthermore, it looks oddly yellow.  I wonder if the color is somehow related to the regions up stream that were burned during the great forest fire last year.  Still, I sit down to get the rocks out of my shoes and decide at the very least to put my feet in.  I move into the sun and realize after a few minutes, the bugs don’t seem to be around as much.  Could something so simple as stopping for a rest have allowed them to become bored with me?

I’m always amazed at how water that can feel so cold when you first put your feet in can start to feel fine and I’m convinced that I should attempt to sit in the creek.  I take off my shirt, face the sun and slowly lower myself in.  The water is so low it doesn’t even cover my legs, but it feels good.  I take another look at the creek and decide I should lie down. Now getting my back and chest wet sounds like torture, but I know that as soon as I turn around I’ll be as hot as can be once out of the trees.  So slowly I lower myself into the water.  I cringe at the cold, but try to relax telling myself soon it won’t be so bad. I lower more and more until all but my head is in the water.  Finally I put my hands behind my head and fully lay down.

 And there I am, six miles from the trailhead, in the middle of the national forest, lying down in a tiny creek. I feel like a reptile, a cold blooded animal whose top half is baking in the sun while my back is cooled by the water.  I have a Zen moment.  The intense cold, the insects, the comfort, the ability to relax are all one.  The absurdity makes it all worthwhile.  It also somehow makes it feel real.

As I get up to leave I’m in a remarkably more upbeat mood.  I know soon I’ll be hot again, and I’m willing to bet the bugs will feel unbearable once more, but in the moment and on into the future I know it’ll have been worthwhile to give the old armchair a rest.


Krakov Square from Wikipedia

Take the Blessing and Run!

You know it’s true, you really can get used to being the square peg in a circle town.  It might have taken a year, but hearing my name on the street finally feels ordinary.  Groups of “We Real Cool” teenagers greet me in German or Japanese, in any foreign language they know.  Gazes and stares blink out “Incredulous!” in some Ukrainian Morse code when I ask for strange spices like clove and ginger at the shop.  Little starfish-shaped children all bundled up for winter yank at babushka’s coat sleeve and whisper, “Missamanta, tse missamanta.”

Yes, that’s right, here I am.  And here, in Ukraine, that is what I am: Miss Samantha, the rootless and forever smiling foreigner-in-residence.  With her excessive use of ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ her USDA-approved toothpaste, and a checkered coat that just screams, “I’M FROM AWAY!!” With all that noise, it’s a wonder I can hear myself think.

Considering the frequency with which I write about running in Ukraine, you may have been persuaded to believe that it is a national pastime, that Ukrainians are a lot who take to the streets in sneakers and tracksuits on the daily.  I assure you, this is not true.  So, if you are sitting there fancying Ukraine to be such a place, please accept my humblest apologies.  It seems you have been misled.  It seems, what with all my talk of running on icy patches past grazing goats, I have led you astray because a runner’s country Ukraine is not.  In fact, I’d bargain that there are more people running around the Charles River in Boston on any given day than there are running in the whole of Ukraine.

Any takers?

No, seriously.

I’d bet my last jar of peanut butter on it.

Needless to say, here I am running again in a place where people don’t run.  The truth of it is, though, that’s why I love to do it.  When I’m running in Ukraine, it’s not me who’s foreign but what I’m doing.  It doesn’t matter that my coat is checkered or that I’ll never properly pronounce the word for love, it doesn’t matter that I’m an American; I am a runner and that is foreigner enough.

Now, while Ukrainians may not be wind-sprinting down Carl Marx Street, that’s not to say they aren’t active participants in my physical training. (You may, oh diligent reader, remember a previous incident wherein I participated in a pas-de-deux with an inebriated fellow I encountered while out running in the fields.)

“Here’s another one,” I say to myself, looking ahead down the road.

A man in a bright pink, green and blue MembersOnly jacket rides his bicycle toward me.  In his limp, fish lips he dangles a cigarette. He has the kind of hair that people sported to look cool back before I was born; nappy waves to the shoulder – distant listlessness in his eyes.  Just the kind of character I try to avoid when I’m out running on my own.

But, I’m so intrigued.  It’s the jacket that really gets me – especially since here, in Ukraine, the color spectrum usually dies out somewhere between dark purple and black.  This jacket would have been Thrift store find-of-the-semester in college.  He rides the way you imagine people riding in places that don’t allow cars – like Fire Island or Put-In Bay,  like some college kid who’d started riding one day and never quite figured out where he was going.

Despite the jacket,  I brace myself for another unpleasant interaction on the road.  I clench my jaw a little, stare straight forward and speed up, annoyed that yet another drunk ne’er-do-well is messing with my runner’s chi. As we draw closer, I plan escape routes, ways to avoid his attempt to engage me in another two step.  He’s getting ready to do something, I can tell, and I practice my…er, yoga moves in my head (and promptly make a promise with myself to do more kickboxing).  Just a few feet ahead of me, I catch his creepy, off-the-deep-end eye and immediately wish I’d been born a boy. I’ve got chills and not just because it’s below zero.

And then, out of the blue, it happens just like that.

“God Bless ya, young one!,” he says.

Say what?

“May God give you health!” He shouts again, almost toppling sideways off his bicycle.

Yup, definitely drunk, but not nearly as harmful as expected; in fact, kind of sweet in his own way.  More “Weekend at Bernie’s” than Freddy Kreuger for sure.  My gate slows and my fists unclench; I’m nearing the end of my run anyway.

And here I am smiling because that’s the thing about Ukraine – when you learn to take the good and trust that the rest will right itself eventually, it becomes a pretty amazing place.  Sure, the sun sets at 3:30pm but have you caught the blaze in which it goes?

Let’s just say, these days, I’m learning to take the blessing and run.

“You too!,” I shout back, though I doubt we’re close enough anymore for him to hear.


ps – Sam is currently serving in the Peace Corps in Ukraine.  You can follow her blog at:

Sukhbaatar Square Celebration

Second Chances: UB Mongolia

Sukhbaatar Square Celebration

August 24th, 2008 – a symphony of fireworks exploded over Ulaanbaatar, (or UB as it’s locally known), as crowds jumped and shouted in the streets. 

Passengers slapped high-fives with strangers from car windows; horns blared; people danced across the sidewalks. Mongolia, a nation of three million, had just won its second Olympic gold medal ever—its second of the Beijing Summer Games—and the city’s population had gone bananas in a wildly infectious way. 

Standing amidst a swell of humanity in UB’s Sukhbaatar Square, I contemplated how incredibly fortunate I was to experience this celebration and how second chances have a peculiar knack for emerging soon after you think you’ve really blown it. Just 10 days ago I’d felt differently when Mongolia won its first gold medal and I had foolishly missed the festivities.  

 That proved particularly painful because I’d come to Mongolia specifically with the goal of chronicling the nation’s Olympic aspirations and hopefully exploits. During my last semester of college, I’d made up my mind to work for a Mongolian-owned, English language newspaper (yes these actually exist) in Ulaanbaatar, inspired by my love of sports journalism and my anthropology advisor’s passion for all things Mongolian. 

 After making contact with one of two such papers in Mongolia’s capital, I sent out my resume and secured a spot as an English editor, booking a plane ticket for the summer. Within weeks of my arrival at Genghis Khan International Airport, I found myself in the ideal situation, covering Mongolia’s national team of pistol shooters, wrestlers, boxers and other athletes from my office in Ulaanbaatar as they represented their country in Beijing. 

Perhaps the best part of my job was getting to watch broadcasts of Mongolia’s athletes with their compatriots in my host country at the Grand Khan Irish Pub. The nation had waited its entire forty-five year Olympic history for a gold medal, and virtually everyone seemed hungry for success.   

And then it happened. On August 14th, an unknown judo wrestler from the city countryside Tuvshinbayar beat a series of heavily favored opponents. I watched the final match at a gym, enjoying the cheers and laughs of my fellow spectators. That was nice, I thought, walking back to my apartment, where I promptly climbed into bed, exhausted after a long day of work. 

As I drifted off, I noticed the city’s perpetual honking sounded unusually consistent and loud, and some popping in the distance that could have been fireworks. The next morning I found out in my office that those noises I heard were the entire city of Ulaanbaatar, the entire nation of Mongolian, locked in celebration. Over 10,000 people had taken to Sukhbaatar Square where the city exhausted its fireworks supply for the year, and rival politicians toasted one another and their suddenly ascendant homeland. 

Well, I thought, that’ll never happen again. What a remarkable moment to sideline myself in an apartment. I spent the next few days alternately covering the remaining Olympic events and kicking myself for my missed opportunity. And then, that second chance presented itself. 

Mongolia’s boxing prodigy E. Badar-Uugan won his gold medal match, and after waiting its entire Olympic History for one gold medal, Mongolians saw no problem holding a second celebration. 

The match ended at 2:30 pm and the horns, high-fives and shouts didn’t end until early the next morning. I had learned my lesson. When something important happens, go to Sukhbaatar square. That evening, a raucous crowd surrounded the courtyard’s statue of Sukhbaatar, Mongolia’s great revolutionary hero. 

People climbed on top of one another, danced, and sang as they waved Mongolian flags and embraced. An old, intoxicatingly happy man approached me. “This is a great day for Mongolia,” he said. “I am very happy.” 

The city had literally exhausted its fireworks, so the scene was not as raucous as it had been the first night, but the earnestness and joy of the celebrations made the night a magical one, and the perfect ending to my coverage of Mongolia’s Olympic endeavors in 2008.



Jumping In California Style

Bike Path

Santa Monica Bike Path

With less than two weeks to go until my first marathon, I decided to head to the famous Santa Monica bike path for one final effort to gauge my fitness.  Since most of my runs have been on hilly and mountainous trails I thought a flat run with mile markers would be a good way to find out if some of my ambitious goals were reasonable for this race.

From the start of my run I was chomping at the bit to get going fast.  Rather than a long warm up, and easing into an effort as I usually do, I felt almost paranoid to get down to business and begin my workout.

During the run I felt slightly discouraged despite hitting the mile times I wanted to be running.  My brain was saying “wow this is pretty hard, I couldn’t hold this up for 4 times as long. There’s no way I could run an additional 19 miles at this pace.”  Yet in the end I reached my goal and maybe even ran a little faster.  It was a strange feeling to have just accomplished what I set out to do and yet not feel satisfied.

After the run I went to get water, and all of a sudden had the idea to go in the ocean.  It hit me so quickly I almost went with out doing a cool down.  Sure there were questions like what will I do with my shoes?  Will I lose my car key if I jump in? But I decided to risk it and take the plunge.

Within minutes I was playing in the water and diving through the waves.  I couldn’t remember the last time I had played in the ocean like this and the feeling of surfing a wave reminded of summers from my childhood on Long Island.  Afterwards I retrieved my shoes, and lay out in the sun to dry.  Of course in a significantly better mood.

I came to the beach to run without even the slightest notion of swimming and yet going in the water turned out to be the highlight of my day.  After the swim I was able to see my run in a different light.  During my run I accomplished what I set out to do.  Sure it felt hard, but training runs usually feel much harder than races.  And with long runs in the days prior to this and hot weather I should have expected today’s run to feel hard.  What I was hoping for was this magical feeling that can occur in a run where you are able to surpass your expectations and have it feel effortless.  What I forgot is that those experiences rarely occur when in the mindset I was in when I set off.  Those special runs occur when you are completely relaxed, when you decide to have fun, or get the urge to go after it.

I don’t know what time I am going to run during my marathon next week, but I do know today’s run was certainly nothing to be discouraged about.  And I was reminded that even when pursuing one’s goals, there are always hidden opportunities waiting for you.  I suggest you let go and jump in.


The open road ahead

How to Beat Boredom


The Ngong’ athletic training camp is located thirty kilometres, west of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city. The camp consists of a group of individuals from different parts of the country and indeed, the world with a common goal of achieving success in the field of athletics. (A note to our American readers- the word “athletics” is used around the world to mean the sport of running including cross country and track). Athletes train as a group under the careful watch of their coaches and guidance of senior athletes. Health services such as massage and a fitness gym are offered to keep the athletes in good shape. The training camp is located in an extraordinary location near the Ngong’ Hills. The hills provide beautiful sceneries for sightseeing, hiking and team building. One gets a chance to see the country side from a bird’s eye view; the scenery is spectacular and reassuring. The cool bushes also provide an ample, silent environment for meditation and building on one’s mental strength. Athletes depend on both physical fitness and mental strength for their success. Mental stability and good health translates to better performance.

As an athlete, my day is predetermined due to my training schedule. The morning hours and the evenings are my busiest moments. When I am not in the field training, I usually make sure that I engage in various activities to keep boredom at bay. Spending time with friends is the best way to beat boredom. We always engage in endless but exciting chats. The latest athletic events usually dominate our talks; analysis of athletics performance is done in a critical and entertaining manner. We all learn from the performances and experiences of other athletes in the camp. Laughter is said to be the best medicine: – Exciting stories from the team members leaves the crowd roaring with laughter.  One funny story is of an athlete who bought a car and could not drive it at a slow speed since he is used to running fast. He got in trouble with the police for the better part of the year.

Ngong Hills outside Nairobi, Kenya, Africa

When I have free time, I spend it visiting relatives in Nairobi. There, I get to rekindle my best childhood memories with my family. I have made a personal choice to keep boredom on the periphery. Happiness, in most cases, is a matter of choice, so I spend most of my time thinking of the positive things in my life, not dwelling on the setbacks.